Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why President's Start Has Been So Shaky

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why President's Start Has Been So Shaky

Article excerpt

BARELY into its third week and, without having yet tackled any large, substantive problem, the Clinton administration finds itself on the defensive. It's off to the shakiest start of any administration in modern times. What's happening?

Part of the problem isn't President Clinton's doing. It used to be that presidents were given "honey months" - but no more. Problems fly thick and fast before incoming staffs have even learned their way around the West Wing. Pervasive electronic communications bring every presidential move under intense, instantaneous national scrutiny. And elements of the press now seem to think they have a solemn constitutional responsibility to pounce upon those in positions of authority.

New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis noted this week that during the 1992 campaign many Republicans had charged the press with bias against George Bush. "Well, ladies and gentlemen," Mr. Lewis crowed, "look at the press now and think again. Reporters and commentators are savaging Bill Clinton." Such behavior, he concluded "comes naturally to a free press." Any free press will air criticism of political leaders. But in our time, for reasons that include the spread of new professional norms, journalism has become increasingly enveloped in an "adversary culture." American democracy suffers for it.

Still, Mr. Clinton has erred in ways that, should they become a persistent pattern, will doom his administration. First, and most important, a number of his early acts have reinforced doubts about Clinton the man that were his major political problem during last year's campaign: whether, against the high expectations we bring to the presidency, he merits public trust. Just before Clinton's inauguration, Yankelovich Partners asked a cross-section of Americans whether they consider "Bill Clinton ... a leader you can trust, or do you have some doubts and reservations?" Even at this point, the closest Clinton came to a "honeymoon," only 41 percent answered affirmatively.

Against this backdrop, Clinton has repeatedly reversed stands taken as candidate. Instead of a "middle class tax cut," the middle class will undoubtedly be asked to pay more. …

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